EXCLUSIVE: Man…Or Astro-Man? Reunion Interview

I’m not going to bore those that frequent this site with the obvious. Yes, Chunklet has been a long time friend/supporter of Man…or Astro-Man? Yes, the band has been affliated with our endeavors (and vice versa) pretty much since day one. And yes, Birdstuff has pretty much been #2 at Chunklet for the past ten years. However, with that said, Man…Or Astro-Man? is reuniting in March and nobody is more excited than us!

Long time Astro-Man? fan James Bennett (along w/a few spare ?s from other Astro-fans) rattled off some questions to Birdstuff about the impending reunion. You’re reading all this here first, ladies and gents. Get excited for their reunion. Man…or Astro-Man? are a band that we’ve loved very dearly here at Chunklet HQ for going on eighteen years.  — (H2O)

Are you guys sticking to the alien back story? Still using pseudonyms?

Do you want to see Kiss without the makeup? Come on, what do you think? Of course! You should crash land in the middle of nowhere in Alabama and try not sticking to the "back" story. That said, we’ve been disguised as humans on planet Earth for a long time now and it’s sort of impossible not to talk about those endeavors at all.

How did the whole MOAM? reunion thing come about?
Well, although Star Crunch and I had talked about things at different points, the whole impetus of this was really from reading Henry’s post about our friend from The Rachels/Shipping News Jason Noble struggling with cancer. I toured with Jason both playing with Man or Astro-Man? and Shannon Wright and I can attest that he is simply the most genuinely nice person in the rock music world. It severely bummed me the fuck out to hear about his ordeal. So it just hit me that the one thing in the world I could put together that would make a difference monetarily for him would be for the three of us to play the music we made for ten years, and, I know this sounds cheesy, but that was a powerful moment of sorts — realizing you have this thing that for whatever stupid reason people really cared about. I feel very lucky and privileged in a sense to have that. It got us talking about the band and, well, here we are.

As the first show looks to be a Whirlyball gig, what are the chances of a Henry Owings special edition single or doing some special merch for the show?
Well, first off, I’m ecstatic that our initial show back is with Henry at Whirlyball. Henry’s as old school as it gets, and over the years he put on some of our absolute best shows in Athens and Atlanta. It will just be a fun, low pressure, punk rock setting to get back in the game. Plus, Henry always hands down makes the best screened posters and does awesome limited edition shit—usually specific to the show. Henry and I have been talking about a variety of things to have for the show as well as the possibility of doing a record of some sort for Chunklet. Right now, it’s a matter of seeing what that could be. I was in Atlanta yesterday and there are at least twenty unmarked Man or Astro-Man? reels in our old studio. I may go have to go up to Electrical in Chicago and spend two days just cataloging crap. It’s going to be strange hearing master tapes of shit we recorded when we were teenagers.

But what kind of actual merchandise can fans look forward to this time around?
Definitely freeze-dried ice cream at some point. I also always wanted to make weapons of some variety to sell at shows. Maybe Chinese throwing stars or machetes. That said, I made two Man or Astro-Man? hatchets with our logo and graphics on them a long time ago and snuck them into a Wal-Mart. I set them out with the other hatchets for sale to be bought. It was the reverse of stealing! Man, I bet somebody in Auburn still uses one of those hatchets.

What are your thoughts on band reunions in general?

I used to think, and sort of still do, they absolutely suck. If you liked us young and vital, then you’ll love us old, hairy, and half-assed! That said, the Gang of Four and The Jesus Lizard ones really sort of changed my mind about the whole thing. Both those bands were arguably better on their reunion tours than when they were in their original form — not that they weren’t great bands then as well. Sometimes a long hiatus really helps you figure out what was actually good, and bad for that matter, about your band.

Well technically, you guys did the Touch and Go 25th Anniversary so this isn’t the first reunion?
Yeah, that is right on a technical level I suppose, but to be honest, and not to say we weren’t thrilled to be playing then, we predominantly did that for everyone in the extended Touch and Go family who really wanted us to play. I don’t mean to imply that it was purely a favor, but it was a little less “for us” and more about pleasing dear old human friends.

What are you guys plans and where will you be playing?
We’ll be doing a lot of material off Experiment Zero, 1000X, and Made from Technetium, but there’s also some early stuff thrown in just to prove we can still go old school. Right now, plans are very open-ended, and all we have booked is an Atlanta show on March 5 at fucking Whirlyball!!! Then we have a Birmingham show on March 6 and various shows in Austin, TX from March 17-21. That said, who knows what we will and won’t do in the future—that is, unless we’ve already been there and done it. Ha! I still got some chops, right?

Do you think that this will be the last time?
I think when you get to this stage in your band’s "life" any show could be the last one. I’m not saying that as a ploy to get people out, and I hope it’s not the case, but I’ve learned to take nothing for granted with the rock bands that I’ve been in. We’re just having fun while we can.

After all the years away from Man or Astro-Man? Are you nervous and what were you most proud of about your original run with the band?
Not really nervous, although we haven’t done it in quite some time, we did do it a ton of times in our existence and it’s just been coming back fairly naturally thus far. The excitement level is genuinely high. I think the ten years of cryogenic storage has given us a perspective we never had. We were so lucky to get to do what we did. It just seems astounding to me that we would travel all over the country (I suppose the world, really) and have Coco set his head on fire or shoot 1,000,000 volts of electricity out in a club, and then people would let us stay at their house and sleep on their floors! We never had any expectation for the band and just stuck with the idea that if we worked really hard and tried to put on the best show we could every single night maybe we could get to do it some more. By 1997, we did overwork ourselves and that was a big part of the break with Star Crunch, but we never phoned it in or didn’t try to bring the A-game. Out of all the things we did or were about, I’m most proud of that.

What are your genuine feelings about what you guys did as a band?
Well, I can be a pretty harsh person at times. It’s hard to analyze your own band and I am personally truly of the ilk where I thought every show could have been better. During our original lifespan, I always thought we absolutely sucked, could have played tighter or gone crazier at a show, but watching back through old performances after years of being away from it, I actually think we were a pretty entertaining and amazingly tight little band who even when we were hungry, sick, tired, or whatever, put on a pretty good live show. This is not to mention the fact that we put out three albums I am very proud of—I can hardly ever listen to music I have been part of without cringing or thinking it could have been way better.

Which is your own personal favorite Man or Astro-Man? record?
Well, again, I don’t listen to the music I’ve recorded much after it’s been mixed, but, if forced, I would probably say it would be Made From Technetium. I always kind of considered that my record and Star Crunch’s record as being 1000X. 1000X I think is great as well and it was a really highly inspired moment for Star Crunch in so many ways. We had learned an unfathomable amount about recording from Albini—who was absolutely huge in Man or Astro-Man? both developing in the studio and helping us get involved with Touch and Go. After working with him on several records, we felt moderately confident that we, along with our long time Zero Return engineer, Jim Marrer, might be able to get a really good sound ourselves. Jim had gotten this huge, old plate reverb that just sounded remarkably natural and we really utilized it. I know people like those first records we made, but I have trouble listening to them because they have a lot of crisp, sibilant digital reverb on everything, and it just seems really harsh on my ears.
Anyway, by the end of ’96, we had done close to 500 shows since the winter of ’94 and were way over-worked and then some, and that’s really all my fault. I pushed everything way too much. Meanwhile though, Star Crunch had been building up a lot of new conceptual ideas musically and 1000X was sort of like a major statement for him. I mean, I think it’s an over simplication when people say the early records just sound like us playing Ventures records as fast as we can, but I don’t totally disagree with that either. The thing about 1000X was it felt like no one else in the world sounded like us at that point. I mean we weren’t making abstract sound collages with microphones place inside body organs or anything, but it felt pretty fresh to us. That record went down pretty fast and easy, and Star Crunch just had great idea after great idea. Probably the most satisfying record we ever made.
But here’s the deal, Technetium was done just four months later and we still had all these interesting production ideas left over from 1000X, but after touring straight for 2 years and just recording a 7 song 10”, there was just no creative juices for an entire record. We sort of sucked it up early on and banged out some nice collaborative practice space jams like “Don’t Think What Jack,” “Sound Waves Reversing,” and “Jonathan Winters Frankenstein,” but a lot of the rest of the record was written in the studio. It was the first time we were going to spend an entire month or longer in the studio and have time to do whatever we wanted, which also took its toll.
Star Crunch sort of became like Syd Barrett (without the real-life acid damage) at that point. He was staying out on a lake and not at the studio with us. After about the second week, we never would know if he was going to show up sometimes. It was extremely frustrating. I had all these great, amazingly played guitar parts he did  to work with but a lot of them were weren’t finished. There were days were we’d be waiting to see if he would finish a song. Sometimes he’d show up for 45 minutes and that’s all we’d get.
Coco kind of got sick of the process and went back to Georgia so what basically happened was we had this great record just waiting to be finished but nobody wanted to work on it. Maybe it was out of desperation, but I sort of took it on myself to piece the record together. I spent another three weeks at Jim’s in the woods in Alabama mixing, splicing, and trying to make it happen. It was a sad, lonely, desperate way to make a record and I think in a sense the lp reflects that and is a pretty dark record for Man or Astro-Man? (if that is possible), but I also think it’s a pretty excellent piece of work for us. It was one of those situations were the process was miserable but the end product came out pretty vivid and inspired. I always have felt like Technetium was the unwanted stepchild I adopted so I am very close to that record.
It has often been said Man or Astro-Man? easily toured more than any band in the 90s. I’ve seen estimates of 1,500 shows in 31 countries. Why did you guys tour so much?
My attitude was always like “better to be playing a show than sitting at home,” but there’s a psychological cost to that after a while. Plus, you have to understand this, Man or Astro-Man? worked harder than any band I’ve ever known and the work we had to do was way harder than that of an average band (and I not saying that’s something necessarily to be proud of—"twice the effort for half the result" was our motto). We had so much projection and stage shit to set up every night and break down, and it wasn’t until the very end that we ever had more than two people touring with us to help out. Luckily, Curt  Wells, who is currently head engineer at the EARL in Atlanta, did about 3 people’s work every single night—hardest working guy we’d ever met. We were very communistic in the sense that you had to do your share of work or shit would just fall apart. No one ever really partied on the road because it was just impossible to have time for that.
It was not atypical for Man or Astro-Man? to arrive at a club, set up for 5 hours, play a show as hard as you possibly could, break down for 3 hours and talk to everyone until the last kid left, drive to the next city overnight, wake up at 10:00 AM and do some fanzine interview, play on the local college radio station shortly after lunch, then do an in-store thing at 4, go to the club and set up, then (if the club was over 21) do a short 20 minute full stage show for underage kids when the clubs would be closed during our soundcheck, and then finally play our full show again and repeat the process the next day. It was fucking crazy. I’m completely 100% not joking or exaggerating about that being a standard process of what we did. Ask the other guys. We thought that was what every band did. I guess to answer your question though, for a long time we just felt lucky to get to play in front of people, and we didn’t know that doing it thousands of times would make you go insane—at east I didn’t.
What’s the best thing about Man or Atsro-Man? being active again??
Well, I really appreciate the other Astro-Men now more than ever. I don’t think I ever realized in the moment what a great guitar player with a truly distinct sound Star Crunch was/is. We started playing together as teenagers and he just always seemed like the guy I played with so it didn’t ever occur to me to think “Holy shit this guy can really play some profoundly amazing guitar.” And as far as Coco goes…Jesus, besides being a true-to-life mad scientist and deranged inventor, I don’t think there has been a more entertaining personality in the last 20 years who has played in a rock band. He cared more than anyone I have ever met in any band about the fans and the people who supported us. I can’t fathom the number of times it would be 2:00 in the morning and we’d be ready to go and he’d be teaching some kid how to build their own theremin or be explaining how the Tesla coil worked or how to use the O.R.I. real-time sampling gear—Back to Basics. Forgive me if I sound like a fan of my own band. That’s pretty lame, huh?

(Included with this entry is a "best of" – if you will – of MOAM? Peel Sessions from the ’90s. Crank it!)

Man…or Astro-Man? – The Miracle of Genuine Pyrex (Peel Session ’97)

Man…or Astro-Man? – Lo Batt (Peel Session ’97)

Man…or Astro-Man? – Don’t Think What Jack (Peel Session ’97)

Man…or Astro-Man? – With Automatic Shut Off (Peel Session ’97)

Man…or Astro-Man? – Jonathan Winters Frankenstein (Peel Session ’97)

Man…or Astro-Man? – Put Your Finger in The Socket (Peel Session ’95)

Man…or Astro-Man? – Sferic Waves (Peel Session ’95)

Man…or Astro-Man? – Classified (Peel Session ’95)

Man…or Astro-Man? – Max Q (Peel Session ’95)

Man…or Astro-Man? – Invasion of the Dragonmen (Peel Session ’93)